Hurricane Michael tracker: watch latest path of storm in Florida – live

Hurricane Michael, the fiercest storm to hit Florida in a quarter century and the third-most powerful ever to strike the US mainland, roared into the state’s Gulf coast on Wednesday with tree-snapping winds and towering waves.

Michael, whose rapid intensification as it churned north over the Gulf of Mexico caught many by surprise, made landfall early in the afternoon near Mexico Beach, about 20 miles southeast of Panama City in Florida’s Panhandle region, with top sustained winds reaching 155 miles per hour.

The storm came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson wind scale. Its sustained winds were just 2 mph shy of an extremely rare Category 5.

As predicted, the storm was downgraded hours later to a still-formidable Category 3 with maximum sustained winds of 125 mph  and higher gusts as it pushed inland to the Alabama-Georgia border.

Watch live: Track path of Hurricane Michael

Causing major disruptions to oil and gas production in the Gulf even before its arrival, the storm was forecast to unleash waves as high as 14 feet above normal sea levels in some areas, the National Hurricane Centre said.

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Only a couple of hours after Michael came ashore, floodwaters were more than 7-1/2 feet deep near Apalachicola on Florida’s Panhandle, National Hurricane Centre Director Ken Graham said.

Authorities had urged coastal residents in 20 Florida counties along a 200-mile stretch of shoreline to head to higher ground before the storm, but anyone who had not fled by Wednesday morning was told it was too late to evacuate.

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